Office Depot: A Decade of Environmental Transparency

office-depot-corpWant to weigh in? Join us for next week’s Twitter Chat with Yalmaz Siddiqui, Office Depot’s Senior Director, Environmental Strategy to discuss environmental transparency and its role in sustainability reporting.

Office Depot released their 10th annual Global Citizenship Report today. For their 10th anniversary, the office supply retailer decided to turn things up a notch with a total overhaul of their citizenship website, including new ways to view the data they’ve been collecting all these years.

When we review a CSR/Citizenship report, we’re looking to see how robust the data is and whether it’s robust in the right ways: those that speak to the material impacts of that organization’s operations. For example, oil company CSR reports really need to cover the carbon impact of their operations, but it’s probably OK if they skim over discussing employee volunteer projects.

When it comes to a retailer, a big part of their sustainability materiality is what they sell and how they engage with customers on sustainability issues. Do they offer greener products? Do they have robust customer education/engagement campaigns? Do they offer takeback programs?

OfficeDepot’s report really shines when it comes to the “Planet,” which is great because that’s where the retailer should be putting its efforts.

The level of detail here is high with timelines for readers who prefer an overview, and an extremely comprehensive dashboard detailing Office Depot’s performance on every metric it has set for itself over the past 10 years. Some of the data is certified for accuracy by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Sustainability geeks like me can see that Office Depot has increased its procurement of greener products by 9 percent from 2011-2012 and an impressive 419 percent over the decade that they’ve been tracking. That’s an increase from 2,000 products in 2003 to 11,000 products in 2012.

Office Depot has also done an impressive job with customer messaging, increasing the number of products with verified ecolabels by 2200 percent in the past five years, from 400 products to 3000 products. The push and pull that retailers struggle with between offering what customers want and educating them about why they might prefer sustainable products is a real challenge for retailers, so I was impressed to see that Office Depot was tackling it head on. Yalmaz Siddiqui, Senior Director, Environmental Strategy had this to say:

Some retailers are concerned about the chicken and egg issue with greener products: source too many and customers may not be interested, source too few and it’s hard to tell if you’re missing a market. At Office Depot, our approach is based on research which implies the best approach is to be just slightly ahead of the market and use a combination of education and promotion. By following this process we’ve been able to incrementally grow our greener assortment year over year – and grow sales – without getting too far ahead of the curve.

It’s great to see that these folks recognize their role in moving the needle by influencing customer purchasing habits.

While the retailer shows strong trends in nearly every category it has tracked, I would be remiss if I neglected to discuss those few areas where they’ve struggled. Office Depot tracks the volume of recycled content both in the paper products it sells and in the content of its marketing materials. In 2010, the retailer had a high percentage of recycled content in marketing materials at 4.8 percent, but in the intervening years that percentage has been much lower, so PwC gave the company’s 16 percent loss in 2012 a red mark. The marginal changes in percentage of recycled content add up to a relatively big loss, since Office Depot’s overall performance in this area was modest. Given the number of dramatic green upward trends documented in their dashboard, I’m quite sure that they’re working on improving things.

Social issues 

When it comes to the social side of sustainability, Office Depot doesn’t have the decade of data that they do for environmental issues, however they do address the core issues that are material for a retailer: diversity and equality, health and safety, and employee training and opportunities. These sections of the report read as a bit light when compared to the robustness of the environmental data, which brings us to the question of the hour:

What’s the point of all this data?

Over the past decade and beyond, companies like Office Depot have done an excellent job collecting information about their sustainability footprints and setting goals to make improvements. What doesn’t get measured cannot be managed, of course. However, is there a point at which there is too much information, or should we, as sustainability advocates be arguing in favor of more, more, more?

Lucky for us, Yalmaz Siddiqui and the rest of the Office Depot team have made themselves available to share their thoughts on environmental transparency and its role in sustainability reporting through an upcoming Twitter chat. We’ll be discussing materiality and the role of data and transparency in the future of reporting. We hope you can join in to share your thoughts!

Date: Thursday, October 24th

Time: 12-1 EST / 9-10 PST

Where: On Twitter, hashtag #transparency

To register, send the following tweet

Join me for the #transparency chat with @officedepot @yalmazsiddiqui @triplepundit @csrwire on Oct 24th

Accounts to follow: @officedepot @yalmazsiddiqui @triplepundit @csrwire @nickaster  @gchesman Have a burning question? You can send it anytime between now and the chat, as we’ll be collecting them!

Jen Boynton

Jen Boynton is editor in chief of TriplePundit and editorial director at 3BL Media. With over 6 million annual readers, TriplePundit is the leading publication on sustainable business and the Triple Bottom Line. Prior to TriplePundit, Jen received an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. In her work with TriplePundit she's helped clients from SAP to PwC to Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA -- court appointed special advocate for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

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